25 Nov 2020, 6:55 am
What does modern China look like to a daugther of the Chinese diaspora? This issue is at the heart of the lyrical and dreamlike images that photographer Teresa Eng created across the country. Eng’s parents were part of the mass exodus of Chinese people from the inlands who fled to Hong Kong during the communist revolution in the 1950s and eventually emigrated to Canada. Growing up in Vancouver, Eng was only able to build her vision of China from the cultural norms and traditions she experienced. It was only when she traveled there, in 2013, that Eng was confronted with the stark contrast with her imaginary conceptions, finding instead a landscape in a constant state of fluctuation.
Starting from the cultural prejudices she built in her youth, Eng began to explore the country of her ancestors photographically, seeking to better understand her heritage. The resulting series, China Dream – named after a popular slogan that Xi Jinping used, alluding to the American dream – evokes cycles of reconstruction and reinterpretation of the past taking place in China, due to the immense development happening across the country. “The rate of development in China is so fast that the buildings I photographed a long time ago were demolished and replaced,” writes Eng. “Historical monuments and buildings destroyed during the Cultural Revolution are being rebuilt randomly – often as facsimiles of the originals.” Each of Eng’s vertical compositions feels like part of a larger narrative, and seeing them gives a feeling similar to remembering flashes of a dream. In one, an ornate bonsai tree is abandoned in an alley full of garbage. A head of infinitely flowing black hair that streams out of the frame, imitating the curvy modern architecture of a similar image. Chinese graffiti is scratched into plant leaves. And an endless series of highways and roads connect to each other like a knot floating over the city. Eng’s photos live in the midst of moments, covered by a cloudy and ambiguous veil that balances reality and dreams – reflecting her own personal experiences in China going through constant change. As Eng writes: “These observations allow me to understand the world around me”.